187. Memorandum Prepared by the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1
Alexis Johnson and George 2 met with General Khanh at the Waldorf in New York from noon to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 23. They discussed the detailed arrangements for their meeting in Paris. Khanh is leaving the evening of July 23 for Paris with his daughter. He was told that George will arrive in Paris the morning of July 28. Johnson told Khanh that he was authorized to tell “Mr. Out”3 that the President was fully aware of the conversations between himself and General Khanh and that George was a trusted emissary who would be able to maintain direct contact with Washington.
They went over much of the ground that Johnson and Khanh had previously discussed4 but in more detail, and throughout the conversation Khanh was much less reticent than he had been at the previous meeting in implicitly and explicitly setting forth the role that he saw for himself in the developments that he hoped to see in South Viet-Nam come out of these discussions.[Page 519]
In good Vietnamese fashion the detailed formulae that he spun out tended to end up, without his ever saying so, with the logical necessity of his playing a key role. It was difficult to tell how much of the formulae were his own creation and how much they were those of “Mr. Out” and his associates. However, Khanh took a very proprietary interest in them. Only from direct contact with “Mr. Out” can we hope to determine how much of this is Khanhʼs creation and how much of it is that of “Mr. Out” and his associates.
In his usual orderly fashion, and reading from notes, during the course of the conversation he outlined a five-phase program substantially as follows:
- First Phase: Conversations between our emissary and “Mr. Out” leading to agreement in principle.
- Second Phase: The “signature” of a secret agreement between ourselves and the NLF, presumably with the direct participation of Mr. Tho and “Mr. In”.
- Third Phase: The establishment in Saigon of a “transition government” that would implement the “secret agreement” between the USG and the NLF, followed by a call by it to the NLF for a “cease-fire”.
- Fourth Phase: The establishment of a “government of national union” which would incorporate the non-Communist elements of the NLF.
- Fifth Phase: The holding of an international conference to put its “seal of approval” on what had been done, work out a “Federation” in which Cochinchina and North Viet-Nam would be joined (he was vague as to where Annam would fit into this) and generally work out the “Federationʼs” relations with its neighbors.
Under these arrangements all allied troops except those of the United States would evacuate Viet-Nam and the U.S. troops would remain at the request of the new government on bases to be agreed upon. (He was very insistent on the importance of the evacuation of other allied troops on the grounds that, looked at through the eyes of “we Vietnamese”, the presence of these other forces would “infringe on the sovereignty” of Viet-Nam but the same would not be true of U.S. forces remaining at the request of a new government because U.S. forces would be there “for the protection” of Viet-Nam.)
In reply to questions on how Khanh saw the “transition government” being established and what he saw becoming of those areas of the country not under NLF control, he said that the U.S. now has “enough troops” in Viet-Nam to take care of both problems.
In reply to questions on how much of the NLF “Mr. Out” and his associates controlled, Khanh said he could not answer precisely but the Front contained a number of elements, including Buddhists, Catholics, Saigon intellectuals, Cochinchinese intellectuals, Center intellectuals, [Page 520] and Communists, but the majority of the Front is non-Communist. While “Mr. Out” and his associates probably could not speak for all of the NLF, he thought they speak for the majority. He somewhat airily dismissed the problem of Communists in the NLF, although he did say that great secrecy was required in order to prevent the Communists from carrying out a purge.
In reply to questions as to why these non-Communist elements in the NLF had not made some approach at the time that, first, Big Minh and then he, Khanh, who were both Southerners, were in the Government, Khanh said that they did not at that time believe that he was really a Nationalist but thought that he was an “American puppet”.
Khanh said that he had no reply to the question on how “Mr. Out” and his associates felt that they would be able to manage divorcing themselves politically and militarily from the Communists and the DRV.
Khanh said that he had already discussed with “Mr. Out” the release of some prisoners as a means of verifying his position and authority, and indicated that “Mr. Out” said that it would take a “couple of days” to get a message back and then it would probably take a week or ten days to effect a release. When Johnson talked about “not less than four prisoners,” Khanh talked about “two or three,” but neither followed up this point. However, Khanh talked about the importance of a “gesture” on our part such as suspending the B-52 bombing in Viet Cong-controlled areas for “a few days” or carrying out the bombing in Viet Cong-controlled areas only “every other day” a la Quemoy as a signal to “Mr. Outʼs” associates in South Viet-Nam that he was really in contact with Washington. Johnson said that such matters could be considered in the conversations between George and “Mr. Out”.
In reply to questions as to in what areas of the country the NLF exercised military control over the Viet Cong, Khanh said he had nothing to add to what he had said previously to Johnson.
In reply to Khanhʼs pressing as to whether we “accepted” the phase concept as outlined above, Johnson replied that we could not accept anything that required us to carry out a “coup” in Saigon, and the concept obviously involved great difficulties. It was Johnsonʼs hope that, as the conversations proceeded, a way could be found for the NLF to fit into the constitutional process that was now under way. Johnson pointed out that, in the natural course of events, it would seem probable that the Constituent Assembly to be elected on September 11 would have a heavily southern flavor, and noted that it was perhaps for that reason that Tonkinese and Annamites such as Father Quynh and Tri Quang were opposing the elections. The Constituent Assembly would draft a constitution and presumably sometime thereafter national elections would be held under the new constitution. It seemed to Johnson that the critical period was between the undertaking of drafting of the constitution and the [Page 521] holding of elections under it. Johnson hoped that a formula could be worked out in which the non-Communist elements in the NLF could participate during this phase so that the government that would eventually emerge would be acceptable to all non-Communists in South Viet-Nam. Khanh expressed skepticism about elections “in wartime” but did not flatly reject Johnsonʼs remarks.
In reply to questions about “Mr. Out”, Khanh said that he was of the “older generation”, three or four years younger than Khanhʼs father, and Khanh had known him all his life as a family friend. Several times during the conversation Khanh strongly pressed the point on the importance of protecting “Mr. Out” and preserving his incognito. In reply to questions on how “Mr. Out” was able to operate effectively from France under an incognito, Khanh asserted that he “saw many people,” wrote many letters, and travelled widely. Contrary to our Western concepts, his very significance to the movement lay in the fact that he was operating “in secret”. He asserted that “Mr. Out” “gives order to Tho”.
In discussing meetings between George and “Mr. Out”, Khanh said he felt George should not see him more than once or twice in France, and then that another point, perhaps in Switzerland or Belgium, should be found.
Khanh said that he believed “80 percent” of the information he received from “Mr. Out” but he could not be sure of the other 20 percent.
In reply to questions about Mai Van Bo, Khanh said that he was a Southerner by origin from My Tho but was now completely a Northerner. He said that Mai Van Bo had gone to Hanoi some months before and had come back about six weeks ago, and that about three weeks ago the status of his mission in Paris had been changed from that of trade mission to a “general delegation”.
During the course of the luncheon conversation, Khanh told Johnson that he knew the CIA had paid $10,000 to a colonel whose name Johnson did not recognize for a briefcase containing Khanhʼs private papers which had been left in a car in the confusion attending Khanhʼs departure from Saigon. Khanh said that he in fact was glad that we had the papers because he was sure that we would not have found in them anything personally discreditable to him.
Johnson told Khanh that he could freely and frankly deal with George in exactly the same manner as he dealt with Johnson and, in reply to Khanhʼs request for a contact in Paris in the absence of George, Johnson suggested that he get in touch with Mr. McBride, DCM in the Embassy in Paris, identifying himself as “Ray”.
Khanh accepted from Johnson, in accordance with their previous conversation, the exact amount of additional cost that he had incurred by [Page 522] converting his excursion ticket to a ticket that would permit him to return at this time, first class, but stoutly refused to accept any advance on future expenses that might be incurred. He said he would inform George of the exact amount of any “out-of-pocket expenses” but would not accept a “cent more” from us.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET/ELMTREE. Top Secret; Sensitive. Copies were sent to the President and Sturm. ↩
- George was a code name for Sturm.↩
- Le Van Truong. See footnote 3, Document 179.↩
- For a summary of the discussion, see Document 179.↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩